Knoedler (acquired from the above, May 1866)
Private Collection, New York
Acquired from the above
With its figures locked in theatrical poses, their drama unfolding on a stage-like courtyard set above a town, Tentative d'enlèvement may surprise those who think of Tissot as a society painter of "modern life". The subject is not a woman dressed in the latest fashions of nineteenth century London or Paris, but one wearing sixteenth century costume. She anxiously watches a duel between her hero (shedding his coat, hat tossed aside) and a black-cloaked opponent, soon to be joined by an ally climbing over the balcony wall, their aim to whisk her away. The artist pays great attention to detail in recording the rich, warm fabrics of the lady's dress, the French (or Belgian) blue and yellow faience lion, and the spindly trees set behind an elaborate carved trellis; all add to the scene, suggesting a Northern winter locale and moneyed status of the imperiled lady. While this early composition may seem unrelated to Tissot's mature oeuvre, it portends the artist's later successes with rendering atmospheric moods, multi-layered narratives, and his consistent, technical perfection.
Scenes of the Middle Ages dominated much of Tissot's work of the early 1860s. Though still set in the past, compositions like Tentative d'enlèvement suggested the artist's shifting interest toward popular tales of historical adventure and romance from the genre troubadour and the history paintings of Jean-Léon Gérôme like his Louis XIV et Molière or Duel après un bal masqué. The present work is one of a loose series, which also includes Promenade sur les ramparts (1864, Stamford University of Art, Palo Alto, California), Le Rendez-Vous (circa 1867, sold in these rooms, April 20, 2005, lot 76, illustrated), and L'enlèvement (circa 1865-67, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes) in which male and female protagonists cross from painting to painting, creating a narrative that provides different perspectives on the compelling action (Wentworth, p. 42). Without clear source material or moral lesson, Tentative d'enlèvement infuses costume drama with modern, emotional complexity to create a carefully observed scene.
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